Ramaa Mosley, ‘The Brass Teapot’ director, talks humor and ‘Close Encounters’
The Brass Teapot, starring Juno Temple and Michael Angaro, will open in limited release on April 5th. Ramaa Mosley directed the film, from a screenplay written by Tim Macy. Mosley and Macy collaborated on a comic series that became the screenplay. Tail Slate sat down with Ms. Mosley recently to talk about her film.
Tail Slate: Aside from movies you’ve been involved with, what is your favorite movie?
Ramaa Mosley: Close Encounters
RM: Because I was very little when I first saw it. I remember sitting between my parents on the sofa when the commercial for it came on and they both went ‘ohhh’. It was like a big deal, that commercial. You can read about it now, how that commercial took the whole world by storm. My parents were so excited and they took us to see it. Seeing the movie I felt like this was my family.
TS: There was a connection.
RM (nodding): My parents were very counter-culture people and I totally recognized my family in the movie. This movie told me that the average person could meet an extra-terrestrial and have amazing experiences. Ever since those are the movies I love and the kind of movies I want to make.
TS: Was the effect that commercial had on you the reason you went into commercial directing first?
RM: No. That was totally unexpected. I did not plan to go into commercials. When I was sixteen I directed my first documentary. So I really thought I was going to go right into making films and winning my first Oscar by the time I was 21. I had it all planned out. But what ended up happening is that when I graduated from college at 21, some 15 years ago, I was asked by some friends to make a music video. It got seen by a bunch of people and within a week I had all these offers.
TS: So you just fell into it.
RM: Yes. Next thing I knew fifteen years had passed and I’ve made all these commercials and it was time to make my first feature.
TS: The world is your oyster, you have an unlimited budget. What one movie would you want to remake?
RM: That’s a great question.
TS: Thanks. I use it a lot. I get some interesting answers.
RM: It’s interesting. Just the other day I was saying I really wanted to remake Stir of Echoes.
TS: Excellent choice. Why that film?
RM: Well, if I could have directed The Matrix, but no one needs to remake The Matrix, so I guess that’s my answer. Wait, I just remember. I’d love to remake Somewhere in Time. I’m actually dying to remake that and would love to do that.
TS: In The Brass Teapot we have the classic tale of good versus evil. Is the message that true love is the reason they’re able to survive what so many people before them could not survive?
RM: Yes, but that’s really the result rather than the message. The message is that we don’t need more and more stuff to be happy. You know the fable of The Magic Fish?
TS: Yes I do.
RM: So that to me, was a big inspiration.
TS: So basically your movie is aimed at Donald Trump?
RM (laughing): Yeah. It’s this idea that when I get this I’ll be happy, when I get that I’ll be happy and wanting more and more stuff instead of just being happy.
TS: Did you have a lot of input into the design of the teapot itself?
TS: What is the symbolism of the Star of David on the side of the teapot?
RM: Well that is from some of the paintings we had found.
TS: You mean the artwork that is behind the opening credits?
RM: Some. I had known about this legend since I was a child. I heard about it in class when I was little and then I read the short story. Then Tim (referring to Tim Macy) and I created this comic book. While making the comic book we researched the mythology and we found out that there is an actual society called The Theosophist Society and they’re searching for the teapot. They believe it is the Holy Grail. They believe it exists and they believe it can never be destroyed.
TS: And they believe it corrupts people.
RM: They sent me documentation. They’ve done so much research and they believe it’s been in the hands of many people. Tiberius, the Roman emperor, to Caligula, to Attlia the Hun, Genghis Khan. Paintings, documents. They believe that somewhere around the 12th century the church, the Christian church, turned the view of the Brass Teapot into the Holy Grail, in order to get more followers. They made it into lightness.
TS: They remade the legend in order to make church more palatable.
RM: Totally. They (the Theosophist Society) believe the brass teapot is out there and they believe that it might be in the hands of Al-Qadea or somewhere in the Middle East. The point is we had all of this research and so we used that and then added our own idea to make the teapot.
TS: The humor in the film is clearly intentional. I felt it was just the right amount and touch of humor. How do you feel about the amount of humor in the film? So it wouldn’t go too far into the ‘dark side’.
RM: I tried really hard to control…I mean I really tried to work with the tone of the movie because I knew there’d been horror movies made about this. I didn’t want to make a horror movie. I wanted to make a comedy. I wanted it to be in the vein of The Witches of Eastwick. I wanted it to be dark humor, but funny. So every moment, in every scene I was trying to hold onto the reins of that comedy. I was very lucky because Juno and Michael are such funny people.
TS: They had great chemistry.
RM (smiling): They did have great chemistry. And the cast was filled with such talented improv actors.
TS: Were you very involved in the costuming in the film? It’s very obvious that whoever did the costuming did it so that what the actors was wearing showed the audience which of the characters were in the throes of ‘wanting’ because of having held the brass teapot and which were not being held in its sway?
RM: Well, all that credit is due to Malgosia Turzanska and we talked about it a lot and she did a terrific job with it. That and the look in the production design was intentional. It started out as green and gold and then becomes silver and gray. When you have no money, especially when you have no money…
TS: You were on a shoestring budget?
RM: Yes. I tried to make the film as big as possible. I love those Marvel Studios films. I love those movies that are adapting comic books and I was adapting my own comic book. So of course I wanted it to be like that (a big film).
TS: When you were working on the screenplay was there anyone you envisioned in the film? Any particular actors in key roles?
RM: I just kept imagining a young Nicole Kidman, for Alice.
TS: That’s Juno Temple.
RM: That is Juno. Then I saw her in Dirty Girls and Little Bird, and I was convinced. I had to wait a few months to get her attention, to get her to read it. This was a few years ago so she hadn’t been in The Dark Knight Rises yet. What happened was she had bird flu so she was really sick. Then she finally read it and wanted to do it.
TS: What are you going to do next?
RM: I have two projects that I’m hoping I will get to direct. Both of them are written by Tim Macy. One is called Free Will and the other is called Hypergravia. One is a magical thriller and the other is a magical comedy. I just love his work and so those are what I want to do next.
TS: Hitler. Was that a deliberate choice? It makes sense in the chronology of the brass teapot’s history but was it a deliberate choice?
RM: Because it was in the mythology that was given to us by the Theosophist Society I felt it was important. I feel there is no one in our lexicon who is worse that Hitler. He very much believed in the paranormal and was always looking for things that would turn the tide of the war in his favor.
TS: So do you envision the brass teapot giving different things to different people? It gave Alice and John money, but did it give Hitler what he needed to become Chancellor early on, did it give Genghis Khan the ability to conquer most of China, which he lacked early on?
RM: I believe that it gave everyone money at first. Then it gave them power, a sense of power in the way that Tolkien described the ring. That is what it has in it. It has the power to corrupt but there have been people throughout history who had the teapot and were not corrupted. Charlemagne was one of them and so was Joan of Arc. But there have not been very many who were able to resist its power.
TS: Did you toy with, or think about a dark ending to the film?
RM: There were definitely script development meetings where we talked about what would happen if we killed somebody. But in the end I wanted to make a movie that left you with that inspirational feeling. A dark ending was not where I wanted to go. I wanted to make a movie like Spielberg or Ron Howard, a movie that gives the audience a certain feeling. I like the idea that an ordinary person can go on an amazing journey and be a hero.
TS: Aside from the directors we’ve discussed, who do you draw inspiration from?
RM: Ang Lee comes to mind. I watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon three times in the theater and even today watching it can make me cry.
Tail Slate’s review of The Brass Teapot will be posted on the film’s opening day, April 5th.